Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/19
Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I have also lived in Guadalajara, Caracas, and Luxembourg.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Home is Washington, DC. There are no direct flights at this time between Vietnam and USA and must connect somewhere in Asia, usually Seoul or Tokyo.
DC to Seoul is 14 hours, Seoul to Hanoi is another 4+ hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are apartments/condos and single family homes. The current commute to embassy is 30-40 minutes for residents in Tay Ho.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
if you shop at local markets, the cost is minimal. Food is fresh and quality is good, and there are western style grocery stores that have almost anything you need. There are a few specialty markets (L's Place, Annam Gourmet, Veggys, Red Apron wine, Hanoi Small Goods) that carry harder to find western products and you pay for that. There is also a Costco like store (Mega Market) and, of course, Amazon Prime. This is a consumables post.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I didn't need anything thanks to it being a consumables post and the western markets. I shipped preferred cleaning supplies, toiletries, wines, liquor, and cooking products in my consumables shipment.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available by delivery: groceries, take out, wine! There is a variety of restaurants available, from street food to formal dining, BBQ, pizza, burgers to pho, bun cha and more.
New microbreweries are popping up around town, too.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
ANTS are everywhere in the houses. The best product is Terro liquid ant baits from US.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch; priority mail usually arrives 7-10 days.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Housekeepers, nannies, cooks, and drivers are all available and reasonably priced. Many want to be paid in US dollars. A PT housekeeper around $325/month. A FT driver around $400/month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Multiple gym and exercise facilities around, but they are expensive. Boxing and kick boxing gyms are popular at the moment.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are widely accepted. I used often and only one time had an issue with card being cloned. ATMs are common and ok to use.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I was surprised how little I needed Vietnamese. You can get by with little Vietnamese in the city. I recommend you learn some key phrases e.g., numbers and directions.
Google translate helps when in the markets and charades, too.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, no accessibility here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I only used local taxis, which are very safe and cheap. Grab (like Uber) is readily available, too.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A smaller vehicle recommended since roads are narrow and lots of motor bikes on the road. There are dearlerships for Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Kia.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, there are a few companies around depending on where you live. We were able to stream Netflix without problems. It took two to five days to get it installed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Take an unlocked phone and you can get SIM cards locally, multiple options: pay as you go, monthly rates, etc.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
There are a few vets that cater to expats; I really liked Asvelis in Tay Ho. There is no quarantine for Vietnam.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
US embassy has a variety of EFM jobs. There is no bilateral work agreement between US and Vietnam, so spouses of American diplomats have harder time working on local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of volunteer opportunities to include the Hanoi International Womens Club (HIWC). Volunteering at kids schools is also popular. Personally, I volunteered at a local museum and helped a different cultural site with English translation for social media posts
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It is HOT in Hanoi and I recommend breathable fabrics. Business casual is acceptable most places. Formal dress only a few times a year if you go to Marine ball, Burns Supper or Latin Ball.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, it is one of the safest cities I have lived in. I felt comfortable walking around and taking taxis
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is adequate. For more serious injuries (broken bones) or illnesses (cancer), you will need to seek treatment elsewhere like Bangkok or Singapore. There are a few western-trained doctors working in clinics in expat communities. Issues related to poor air quality will be a problem, e.g., a persistent cough (Hanoi hack) or asthma.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
BAD: Hanoi ranks up there with Beijing and New Dehli most days. Between pollution from transportation, coal power plants and burning fields/trash...it's bad and impacts breathing.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Be aware many foods cooked with peanuts/nuts, but restaurants can accommodate food allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
During the winter it can be damp and grey, with no sun for weeks at a time. It's always good to get out of the city and head elsewhere for a break.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
HUMID year round, HOT during the summer, and damp and cooler in winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are multiple schools to chose from. UNIS and Concordia seem to be the most popular, the are also HIS, ISV and St. Paul's. My kids attended UNIS. They loved the campus and after school activities offered. Academics in ES not too challenging. Teachers tried to challenge students who were working above grade level. Interesting Units of Inquiry for ES students that let them research certain topics. ES did great job preparing students who were leaving the school for a new school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Ask the schools.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are a variety of preschools available. I know Systems Little House was a popular choice. I don't know about cost. UNIS did not offer before or after school care to my knowledge.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are limited local sports options. UNIS has great swim program and sports in MS and HS and soccer club on Saturdays. UNIS also has a music academy (UMA) with lessons in variety of instruments. (my kids took piano lessons there). Hanoi Football Youth League has several teams: Hanoi Capitals baseball club consists of mostly of Vietnamese kids, and a few Americans. They meet on weekends for practices and put together tournament teams for regional tournaments.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
US embassy has a large mission - around 150 USDH plus family members; it's a good-sized group. Hanoi itself has large expat community from all over the place.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Embassy has typical events like Halloween, Christmas, Easter. The CLO is active with excursions and cultural events and HIWC offers a lot of activities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, the Vietnamese are very friendly.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling throughout the country (Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, Ha Long Bay) and region(Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Bangkok).
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It's definitely a shopping post: pottery, lacquer, tailored clothing, baskets,
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Fairly cheap and full of history.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This was our first post in Asia; SE Asia is very different from other parts of the world. There is definitely culture shock. The traffic here is the craziest I have witnessed; the motorbikes outnumber people and cars and swarm everywhere. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is challenging. Enjoy the people, the food and the culture.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, but I enjoyed my time and made the most of it.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and breathable fabrics.